bloomHere is a key difference between Reporting Squirrels and Analysis Ninjas: The latter almost exclusively leverage custom reports (powered by advanced segmentation) and the former flirt with one standard report and then another and then other and in the best case scenario pull only half of their hair out.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the standard 19,000 reports in your web analytics tool. But they do represent the Vendor's best guess about what you should look at. Sometimes they even get it right.

Most of the time though your business is absolutely unique (even as it exists amongst hundreds of competitors) and it is absolutely important that you take your web analytics tool and mold it around you. The power that is given to you even in free tools like Yahoo! Web Analytics and Google Analytics can create a view of data that will help you find faster insights.

This post is inspired by a suggestion from Horia Neagu in reply to my tweet asking for blog post ideas. My thanks to Horia.

Horia's question was: How about a post entitled "10 Google Analytics Custom the Reports You Absolutely Must Set Up"?

I am not going to write about that, simply because the very idea that a report is custom means that there are probably no "ten standard custom reports" to set up.

I am going to share one recommendation and two ideas for making your own custom reports better.

This is a "teach a person to fish" type post. Sorry. :)

[UPDATE: If you want to download three advanced custom reports to do Page Efficiency Analysis, Visitor Acquisition Efficiency Analysis & Paid Search Performance Analysis please check out: 3 Awesome, Downloadable, Custom Web Analytics Reports]

many different directions

No Goals, No Glory.

Here's a cliché: If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Nowhere is this more applicable than when it comes to trying to find insights from your data you can action.

You report your poor heart away, no one seems to be able to take anything you give and take action.

Often it is the case that you and I have not bothered to sit down with he HiPPO / the boss's boss and tried to understand what in the name of all that is holy and pure is our website trying to do!

What are the goals?

No custom report (or advanced segment, the life giving oxygen) was ever created without an answer to that question.

So ask that question. Get an answer before you go about your customization ways.

If your leaders / clients truly want wisdom from you they will answer the question. But it does happen sometimes that begging or throwing yourself at her/him does not elicit anything of value.

question 1In those rarest of rare cases (after you have already submitted your resume to other companies that will cherish you for the golden child you are) try to figure these one or more of these three things out:

1. Where it the company currently spending money? Email marketing? Affiliate? Paid Search? Online PR?

And what's the biggest bucket?

Now go create your custom reports because if you can help the HiPPO's figure out how to reduce cost of acquisition they will love you more than you can imagine.

2. If possible, without violating HR policies, figure out what your boss's salary bonus is tied to.

Start doing analysis that will help your boss get a raise. A great goal to have, love and promotions likely.

3. Go visit your website, yes yes the one you have not used for a while. : ) Find out the single worst thing about it (should take you less than half hour of clicking around).

Now go look for data that will help you prove that the worst thing is the worst thing. Not a bad goal to have to fix what's completely broken, and people will listen.

Three good proxies if you have no goals to start with. Ideally you'll know what your Macro Conversion is so you'll start your analysis with a bang. Super ideal would be that you know both your macro and micro conversions!

Remember: No goals, no glory. Not for you. Not for your boss. Not for your company.

Custom Reporting Tip #1: Always, Always, Always Focus On The End To End.

One problem with standard web analytics reports is that the data you need is scattered all over the place, making it harder for you to find insights.

For example I am trying to figure out which pages stink and need fixing. In Yahoo! Web Analytics the standard report only shows Page Views and Average Time on Page. How much good will that do?

Or I want to figure out which sources of traffic I should make love to or divorce? The standard Google Analytics report spreads the data I need over four tabs.

Custom reports are good at solving this problem. Drag the dimension you need (traffic sources, landing pages etc) and analyze the data by choosing the metrics that tell the end to end story.

End to end has three pieces: Input. Onsite Activity. Outcome.

Here is my favorite, custom, traffic sources report:

google analytics custom traffic sources report sm

[Click on the image for a higher resolution version.]

By inputs I mean metrics that help you understand (in line with your goals) how well the "top of the funnel" (usually acquisition) is working.

visits new visitsIn my case that is measuring Visits (to know who is sending how much) and % of New Visits (to know who is sending how much that is of value to me – new visitors are very valuable in this case).

At a glance I have the information to start making some preliminary superficial judgments about performance.

By onsite activity I mean choosing metrics that help you understand the behavior of your visitors on your website (thus absolving your Acquisition team of any blame, perhaps!).

bounce rate average time on siteIn my case that is measuring Bounce Rate (not so fast Acquisition team, don't get me bad traffic! :)) and Average Time on Site (as a proxy of measuring if the landing pages are engaging visitors and as a proxy of how much each traffic bucket engages with the site).

Depending on my goals I would choose different onsite activity metrics for my custom report.

By outcomes I mean, well you don't need to know do you? You read this blog! I am all about outcomes, every day!!

goal conversions average valueIn my case the outcome metrics are Goal 1 (my macro conversion) and Average Value created for my website.

I could also have used $ Index or Per Visit Goal Value metrics if I were analyzing a non-ecommerce / content only website.

Remember Without a crisp articulation of outcomes every battle you fight will be lost, every day and you will live a very very unhappy life.

With these end to end metrics my custom report tells me stories that would otherwise take too long to piece together (or stories I might have missed completely).

One of the stunning realizations was just valuing Twitter traffic for example. (Click on the above report for a higher resolution report).

My twitter (social media) campaigns were doing exceptionally well. Lots of traffic (#3) overall, the second highest conversion rate (0.78%) and a Average Value that was not the best but rather sweet ($136 – which looks ever better when you compare the cost which is negligible).

Yet non focused traffic from twitter is not doing that well. 0.33% conversion and $39 average value. Pathetic.

I can now jump, like a na'vi, from row to row understand performance quickly and efficiently.

The power for a custom report that shows the end to end story.

It is so easy too.

For example here is the exact same custom report created in Yahoo! Web Analytics, just 30 seconds of drag and drop:

yahoo web analytics custom report sm

[Click on the image for a higher resolution version.]

Always go e2e. If you don't, you better have a good excuse!

Custom Reporting Tip #2: Create "Micro Eco-Systems".

I think I can honestly say that I have get to meet a single decision maker or a department or a company that has yet to tell me: "You know what the problem is Avinash? I don't get enough reports."


We love spewing out data and pretty soon your company has 200 reports and I'll bet you $50 that not a single decision is actually based on data.

So fix it.

Create micro eco-systems.

What I mean are custom reports that do three things:

1. Reduce the number of reports (kill! kill! kill!) and yet coalesce information into one place.

2. Match metrics up with the audience that needs it. Personalize, personalize, personalize!

3. Force you, yes dear darling you, to talk to people and truly understand what motivates them (and then you create a report!).

Let's understand how to do this by looking at a real life example.

My goal is to create a "search ecosystem" report that collects different important pieces of data, for three different stakeholders, all into one place.

I do that by first understanding who all the stake holders are who'll need to use the data (let's hope!) and doing a simple stake holder interview to understand what their business goals are.

Now rather than spamming everyone with a report (that no one will find, I'll have a hard time version controlling, and other such pain), I'll just put it all together in one place (at least in Google Analytics due to a simple yet exceptional feature – tabs!!).

Here is a pictorial view of the process that I'll go through:

google analtyics custom micro ecosystem report sm

[Click on the image for a higher resolution version.]

My first "client" is the Acquisition team, they are responsible for spending the company's money wisely. They are measured on bringing new Visitors (potential customers) to the site.

I create a tab for them that shows Visits, New Visits, Bounce Rate and Average Time on Page (not site). I add the latter two because I want them to see their end to end view and I want them to realize they hold some level of responsibility for people not just coming, but also staying.

We have just one report, each day (God willing) they'll log in and see their own personalized sweet view of the data:

search traffic acquisition report sm

[Click on the image for a higher resolution version.]

But I am not done yet.

Next up is my HiPPO. Let's call him Paul.

Paul only cares about Revenue and all things connected to revenue. He does not care about any other metric. Nothing wrong with that.

Rather than creating another report for Paul I click on *Add Tab* simply do this:

add tab to a custom report

Create a person view for Paul. I throw in Visits (I have to give him some context and some Input metric) and Goal Conversion Rate (so he knows efficiency), Goal Value, Revenue, Shipping (because Paul is having us charge lots for shipping because he thinks of it as a profit center (!!), not great but remember I am personalizing).

Here's the resulting output:

search traffic hippo report sm

[Click on the image for a higher resolution version.]

You know what the result is?

Paul actually looks at the data every other day (and a bit deeper each Friday) because it does not contain crap. It contains just what he needs to do his job (find people to reward and find people to fire).

That is what you are going for. Taking people from data apathy to data usage.

[Oh yes, yes, I noticed Revenue and Shipping are zero in the above screenshot. I wish I could show you someone's real data! Not today. But you get what the report is trying to do.]

Finally there's Amy. Another key stake holder, but a tougher nut to crack. You see her bonus is tied only to Visits, a low bar if there ever was one.

So what do you do?

You can't over smart Amy, she is too smart for you (and probably a level or two higher).

You are going to lose her if you give her too much data.

You need to entice her to start using data, and restrain your smarts – you know you want to create a impressive 8 column report!

In this case I simply add a tab. It says Amy Chang (so she knows it is her very own personal report). It has Visits and Average Time on Site. I added Time on Site as a Outcome metric, just to keep up with my outcomes obsession.

search traffic amy report sm

[Click on the image for a higher resolution version.]

It is simple. It is effective.

It will get her to see just the data she wants (plus one more thing :)).

And here's the sweet part…. since this his an eco-system report perhaps she (and Paul as well) might see other pieces of data in other tabs and might be intrigued enough to ask you to add more metrics.

Then and only then and only at that time and only when you are asked (am I repeating myself?) add those metrics. It is vastly more likely that she (and Paul) will use the data.

There you go… one report that has all the data each stake holder needs personalized and customized.

No one is going to come to you and say: "hey want folder is my search report" or "I don't understand what all this data is saying" – it is personalized. And when you have to make changes, it is all in one place.


happy birthday

Such simple little things: tabs (or cup cakes :)).

Makes it so much easier for you to create a data democracy. And a bit sad that you can't do this with most paid web analytics tools today – yes you can create a custom report but the above report would be a one huge 13 column report that:

1. You would be able to read on your computer screen and

2. No one will understand because of spurious data unrelated to what they want and

3. Drive you into the arms of a multi tab excel spreadsheet (which will bring its own bucket of pain for you).

I hope all paid web analytics vendors will incorporate this feature, for the sake for our data democracy!

That's the story. Goals. End to End. Micro self contained eco-systems.

I was hoping to teach you how to fish, rather than just tell you which 10 reports to create. Regardless of the specifics of the reports and metrics above I hope you have learned a bit more as to how to think about approaching the issue and the important things to focus on.

Custom reports are a powerful way to take what looks overwhelming in web analtyics – REPORTS and DATA – and make it didapper. It is also a wonderful way to start the journey of your company, big or small, to start using data.

Ok now your turn.

Do you have custom reporting tips to share with us? What small or big thing you have done that really really worked for you? Have you tried end to end reports? How about micro eco-systems? What strategy completely failed? Got a custom report you think everyone in the world should be using?

Please share your stories / tips / bruises / successes.

I'll send the best one a copy of my new book Web Analytics 2.0.

UPDATE: It was hard to pick just one winner so a copy of the book goes out to SteveK (for advocating common sense!) and to Ali Shah (for emphasizing sharing of context). A bonus prize also goes to MGSeeley (for bringing a smile with his adorable analytics haiku!).

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